Five Unanswered Questions About Miami's Child-Migrant CompoundEXPAND
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Five Unanswered Questions About Miami's Child-Migrant Compound

The entire state of Florida has been in something of an uproar after New Times reported Monday that the Trump administration had quietly reopened a camp for child migrants in Homestead and placed nearly 1,200 kids there without informing the public. Since then, politicians, reporters, and protesters have descended upon the facility every day this week. Though reporters were finally allowed inside the facility Friday, Miamians are still left with tons of questions about how the place operates and how children will find safe homes with guardians in the United States.

Here's a rundown of what we still need to learn about the compound:

1. How will children be reunited with their families? According to Sen. Bill Nelson, there were 94 kids inside the facility who'd been ripped from their parents by immigration agents. Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order "ending" his administration's policy of separating children from their parents, but the administration seems to have no real plan to reunite kids with their families. In fact, a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement director warned NBC News this week that child separations can easily become permanent because of the bureaucratic nightmare that is immigration detention. The Trump administration owes it to the world to explain how these children will leave Miami and find their parents again:

2. Why didn't politicians alert the public earlier about the compound's reopening?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has responded to news of a child-migrant camp opening in his state by, in part, throwing a bunch of other politicians under the bus. In a two-page letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) yesterday, Scott disclosed that "Florida's congressional delegation" and "state and local officials" were told months ago that the Homestead shelter would reopen. The revelation raises questions about why not a single politician informed the public about it until New Times first reported Monday that the compound was holding more than 1,000 children.

According to records Scott's office sent New Times after this story was initially published, the Department of Health and Human Services sent Scott's communications director John Tupps an email on February 7 stating that the facility was re-opening. The message did not list what other lawmakers, specifically, were being notified along with Scott. The records state that politicians were also told in some sort of conference call.

The disclosure raises further questions about whether Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose district includes the shelter, knew the facility was reopening. Curbelo has not said a word publicly about the facility this week, but in general has said he does not agree with Donald Trump's policy of separating families that arrive at the U.S. border.

Scott's disclosure also raises questions about when Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Bill Nelson learned the center was reopening

3. How conflicted is Gov. Rick Scott?

In Homestead, a federal compound housing as many as 1,000 migrant children is managed in part by a federal contractor based in Cape Canaveral called Comprehensive Health Services, which has held a contract at the Homestead camp since February 2018. Sen. Bill Nelson says 94 children at Comprehensive Health's facility have been taken from their parents by U.S. immigration agents.

According to a New Times review of past state documents, that contractor is operating in the Sunshine State thanks to a handy assist from Gov. Rick Scott's administration. In December 2016, Comprehensive Health announced a new project that would "create 150 new jobs" at its Cape Canaveral headquarters — and in exchange, the state in July 2017 awarded the company a $600,000 "qualified target-industry" tax-incentive package.

But just as Scott was negotiating that tax break, Comprehensive Health was hashing out a deal with the feds to pay a $3.8 million settlement to the U.S. Department of Justice over a medical-fraud claim. After Comprehensive Health paid the fine in February 2017 (without admitting any wrongdoing), Florida gave the company the tax breaks anyway.

As lawmakers such as Nelson have put pressure on Scott, a Trump ally, to take a stand on the facility, the governor's involvement with Comprehensive Health complicates matters. In December 2016, Scott cheered the company's expansion in Florida.

"I am proud to announce that Comprehensive Health Services Inc. has chosen Florida over Virginia for their expansion, which will create 150 new jobs," Scott said that year. "I look forward to seeing CHSi’s growth in Florida and we will continue to do all we can to cut taxes and reduce burdensome regulations so more businesses can succeed in our state.”

4. Why weren't lawmakers and reporters allowed inside the facility until Friday?

This morning, President Trump's Office of Refugee Resettlement also refused to allow two sitting lawmakers to enter the facility. Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who first disclosed that hundreds of migrant children had been shipped to the facility, were both denied access to the compound.

"HHS just blocked us from entering its facility in Homestead, Florida to check on the welfare of the children being held here," Nelson tweeted minutes ago. "They are obviously hiding something, and we are going to get to the bottom of this."

In the clip, a representative from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) pushes through a gaggle of TV cameras to reach Nelson and Wasserman Schultz. He introduces himself and says a representative from ORR is willing to speak to the lawmakers — in a separate building across the street.

"We'd like to go into the facility," Wasserman Schultz says. "We're happy to speak to you inside the facility."

Nelson then adds that the congresswoman was told "we were going to be allowed entry."

Wasserman Schultz says she spoke earlier to the contractor who runs the facility — Comprehensive Health Services — which gave the lawmakers approval to enter the building. The man then vanishes to "talk" to his bosses.

5. How (and when) are children being flown here? WPLG reporter Glenna Milberg spent the week speaking to airline workers and immigration activists, who told her that children are being routinely flown into Miami from around the nation, often on commercial flights. In response, multiple airlines, including American, Southwest, and JetBlue, issued statements standing against child-separation policies and stating they do not want the government using their planes to ship kids to detention centers:

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